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FAQ: Comparing vSphere features and editions

When recommending VMware vSphere to customers, you should know the answers to these commonly asked questions about vSphere features and editions.

VMware vSphere 4 has gained popularity as VMware Inc.'s first cloud operating system (OS), but many solutions providers are still trying to evaluate vSphere's features and editions. Knowing about the various vSphere editions and their capabilities will help you become the go-to solutions provider for this new virtualization infrastructure management platform. In this Project FAQ, expert Jason Kappel answers commonly asked questions about vSphere, including what components make up vSphere, how to compare the various vSphere editions and which new vSphere features are most useful to solutions providers.

Read Jason Kappel's answers to other frequently asked questions on VMware VSphere, ESX 4 and vCenter 4 installation.

What is vSphere?
What vSphere editions are available?
What features are available in vSphere that weren't available in previous editions?
More resources on vSphere features and editions
About the expert

1. What is vSphere?

VSphere is a collection of components that make up an OS virtualization product. These components include:

  • ESX/ESXi -- VMware ESX and ESXi are the hypervisor components that are used to create and host virtual machines (VMs). ESXi is the free hypervisor, and the main difference between it and ESX is the existence of the service console. ESXi doesn't have the service console -- management is done via a command-line interface.
  • vCenter Server -- vCenter Server is a product that you install on a physical or virtual Windows Server OS and use to manage and monitor the ESX/ESXi host servers.
  • vCenter Server plug-ins -- A vCenter Server plug-in is used to add more features to vCenter. Generally, a vCenter plug-in uses core vCenter components, such as authentication, and adds more types of events, tasks and privileges to vCenter. There are two types of plug-ins: a client-server plug-in with components on both the vCenter server and the client and a server side plug-in. Some features of vCenter are implemented as plug-ins. These features are vCenter Storage Monitoring Service, vCenter Hardware Status and vCenter Service Status.
  • Datastore -- Datastore is a view of the physical storage that you've made available to vSphere. It can include a local SCSI disk, storage area network (SAN) disk or network-attached storage (NAS).
  • vCenter Server Agent -- For vCenter to manage an ESX or ESXi host, the vCenter Server Agent needs to be installed. This component is responsible for communications between the host and the vCenter Server, and it is installed when the host is added to the vCenter environment.
  • Lightweight Directory Access Protocol (LDAP) -- You use LDAP to synchronize role and licensing information between vCenter Servers that are set up in Linked Mode.

2. What vSphere editions are available?

There are several editions of vSphere available, but your customers' options depend on the size of their business and the requirements they have for virtualization. Below is a VMware table that lists the different vSphere editions and the features associated with each version.

Essentials for retail

Essentials Plus for retail

Standard

Advanced

Enterprise

Enterprise Plus

vCenter Server compatibility

vCenter Server for Essentials, vCenter Server Foundation and vCenter Server Standard

vCenter Server for Essentials, vCenter Server Foundation and vCenter Server Standard

vCenter Server Foundation and Standard

vCenter Server Foundation and Standard

vCenter Server Foundation and Standard

vCenter Server Foundation and Standard

Cores per processor

6

6

6

12

6

12

vSMP support

4-way

4-way

4-way

4-way

4-way

8-way

Memory per physical server

256 GB

256 GB

256 GB

256 GB

256 GB

No license limit, but ESX and ESXi 4.0 currently support up to 1 TB of memory

Thin provisioning

X

X

X

X

X

X

vCenter Agent

X

X

X

X

X

X

Update Manager

X

X

X

X

X

X

VMsafe

X

X

X

X

X

X

vStorage APIs

X

X

X

X

X

X

High availability

 

X

X

X

X

X

Data recovery

 

X

 

X

X

X

Hot add

     

X

X

X

Fault tolerance

     

X

X

X

vShield Zones

     

X

X

X

VMotion

     

X

X

X

Storage VMotion

       

X

X

Distributed Resource Scheduler and Distributed Power Management

       

X

X

vNetwork Distributed Switch

         

X

Host Profiles

         

X

Third-party multipathing

         

X

3. What features are available in vSphere that weren't available in previous editions?

Dozens of new features are available in vSphere that were not in previous VMware releases. here are the most notable new features for vSphere that solutions providers should know about:

  • vCenter Server Linked Mode -- vCenter Server Linked Mode allows solutions providers to link up multiple vCenter Servers so that they can manage all of their customers' hosts from a single console.
  • vApps -- vApps is a software deployment product for deploying n-tier applications in customers' environments. An n-tier application is separated onto multiple systems in a distributed network. The product deploys VMs and applications, and it also adheres to any requirements that must be met to successfully deploy the application.
  • Centralized licensing -- vCenter 4 now supports centralized licensing, which means that your customers no longer need to manage licensing on a per-host basis.
  • vShield Zones -- vShield Zones are used to monitor and enforce network access to more sensitive areas of customers' virtual data centers. Using vShield, VMs are set up to be bridged, firewalled or isolated across defined boundaries, it can be extremely helpful when you're dealing with the many regulatory compliance issues your customers are having.
  • Virtual disk thin provisioning -- All virtual tasks use a significant amount of disk space. The thin provisioning features in vSphere allow VMs to use storage on an as-needed basis.

More resources on vSphere features and editions
VMware vSphere features
Key VMware vSphere 4 features and benefits
Licensing for VMware vSphere editions
VSphere editions pricing and licensing

About the expert
Jason Kappel is an infrastructure architect and virtualization expert at Avanade Inc. He specializes in enterprise infrastructure and data center optimization, virtualization and systems management. He has worked with some of the largest companies in the world to implement green data center solutions and has implemented several multinational server and desktop virtualization systems.

This was last published in December 2009

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